Patron Saint of Hawaii
By Pedro A. Moreno, O.P.
Director, Office of Hispanic Ministry
August 9, 1918, was a cloudy, dreary and rainy day at Kalaupapa, Hawaii. The somber surroundings, as if nature itself was already in mourning, coupled with the soft rain were witnesses to the last breaths of this dedicated immigrant.
A holy consecrated woman of God was reaching the end of her earthly existence. She was 80 years old and dying more than 7,400 miles from her place of birth, Heppenheim, Germany.
On this deathbed lay Marianne Cope, a Sister of Saint Francis.
Her life was one of loving dedication. Let me share some details of her humble beginning and hopefully this can help in our appreciation of her life and gifts to the Church.
A little more than a year after she was born, her parents Peter Koob and Barbara Witzenbacher, decided to bring the whole family to the United States. (Here in the USA the last name became Cope.)
This devout immigrant Catholic family settled in Utica, N.Y., and became members of the local Saint Joseph Catholic Church.
Many years later, while finishing junior high, Marianne´s father became incapacitated and couldn´t continue working. Marianne, being the oldest child, immediately began to work full time at a textile manufacturing plant for the sake of the family. This is dedication.
Soon after the father became a citizen of the United States, and, per the laws at that time, the whole family was naturalized American citizens having the same legal status as dad.
By the time she reached her 24th birthday her dad had passed away. This sad moment coincided with her younger brothers and sisters now being able to support themselves and take care of mom and their home. Now, Marianne could fulfill her true vocation, the religious life. She entered the community of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Syracuse, N.Y.
Although she truly believed that God was calling her to religious life, she waited patiently for the proper moment to respond to God´s call. This is dedication.
Her community recognized her talents and guided Marianne down the path of education. She was assigned as a teacher at first, but a short time later because of her fruitful dedication she was placed in the position of school principal. Seven years later the community gave her a new challenge as administrator at the local Saint Joseph Hospital. Again, she excelled through her hard work and dedication. No matter where they placed her, she shined as a faithful disciple of Christ, working faithfully and with love for those she served.
The community of the Sisters of Saint Francis was so impressed with Marianne´s hard work and dedication that they elected her Provincial Superior in 1877 and again in 1881. They all witnessed her dedication.
While serving in her second term as provincial superior, she received a letter from a priest on behalf of King Kalakahua of the kingdom of Hawaii. He was requesting assistance with the sick and children of his kingdom. She immediately said “yes” and left for Hawaii with a small group of sisters.
As soon as they settled in, the sisters, led by Marianne, established a hospital and schools for the young girls of the kingdom. By 1885, she’d even established a home for the sons and daughters of the leprosy patients, and by 1888, she had left with two other sisters to assist Father Damian at Molokai with the leper colony. Once more, Marianne distinguished herself with her loving dedication.
More than 30 years after her arrival in Hawaii, never having made it back to New York and the Motherhouse, and never having contracted leprosy, this dedicated woman so in love with God and His people took her last breath. That Friday Marianne began her eternal rest from a long life of loving dedication.
Saint Marianne Cope, beloved mother of outcasts, pray for us.